Category Archives: Daniel Kerr

300 Posts – A Reflection

So this week is my 300th blog post, which is a bit staggering for me to think about honestly. I broke that number down the other day and realized that this number represents an average of 25 posts a school year for the past 14 years straight. I am left feeling super grateful that I have had the opportunity to share my thoughts on education from an international school perspective across 6 countries (heading to a 7th) and 4 continents, and after reflecting on this journey it is clear to me that the decision to hit send on my first ever blog post all those years ago was the best professional decision that I have ever made. I had fun recently reflecting on this journey and it’s no surprise that well over 200 of my posts have revolved around the themes of school culture and relationship building, which makes sense since these are the foundation of all good things in school in my opinion. 

I wanted to reiterate something that I shared 6 years ago, when I hit send on my 200th post, which for me is a message that still very much rings true. I shared back then that since I began blogging in August of 2010, I have changed and grown and learned so much. I always enjoy looking back at my older posts and reflecting on the things that I want to dig deeper into, and seeing clearly that in some cases my thoughts around a certain issue have evolved and even in some cases, changed.

If I’m being truthful though, these posts were, and still are, a selfish way of staying current with the ever changing educational landscape, and when I began as new (green and overwhelmed) Assistant Principal in Shanghai, I felt like I had so much to learn, and so much to prove. It was scary at first, and I remember being so nervous when I hit send on my first blog post to faculty, scared that people were going to disagree with me, or push back on how I viewed a particular topic in education. You see, putting yourself out there can be scary for sure, but here’s the thing, you’re not growing if you’re not opening yourself up to critical feedback, or sharing your thoughts about your philosophy, your approach, your expertise, and your practice.

It took me a long time to open myself up in this way, and to become vulnerable and exposed on a weekly basis, but you know what, as an educator it’s the only way forward. We all have so much to share, and so much to say, and it’s not okay to keep it all to ourselves. We can only get better as a profession if we share with one another, ask questions, continually learn, try to push the envelope, celebrate what’s working, and work hard to fix what’s not. The best part of my week is not the time spent thinking deeply about my topic, or the writing on Sunday mornings, it’s the responses and comments and feedback that I receive after I hit send. What I send out is nothing compared to what I get back. The counter arguments, disagreements, related articles and videos, and saw sharpening feedback that always leaves me learning, and questioning, and seeing a topic from all sorts of different perspectives. 

Sharing my thoughts over the years has made me a better leader and a better person, and it’s given me the courage to admit that there is so much in education that I still need to learn, and to get better at. Without a doubt, blogging has been an incredible leadership journey for me over the past 14 years…truly.

Anyway, 300 posts are a lot of posts, and more than anything I just want to say thank you to Brittany Betts and the team at The International Educator (TIE Online), and specifically TIE Blog for providing a platform for me, and for all of us to learn from one another across this international school world…what a gift! I also want to thank everyone who has taken the time to read, comment, share or provide feedback to me over the years…you have made me better in so many ways. I am grateful, thank you. Okay, time to start thinking about post number 301 so enjoy the week ahead and remember to be great for our students and good to each other. 

Quotes of the Week…

Vulnerability is the birthplace of connection and the path to the feeling of worthiness. If it doesn’t feel vulnerable, the sharing is probably not constructive – Brene Brown

Related Articles…

Showing Vulnerability 

Asking for Feedback 

Learning From Others  

Benefits of Writing Regularly 

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A Real Life Queen’s Gambit

A Secret Donor

10 Things That Made us Smile

TED Talk –

The Habit That Can Improve Your Career

Awestruck

So I just finished reading a book that I have been dying to get my hands on, and honestly, it was better than I had hoped for. It connected so magically to our lives as educators, and to the opportunity that we have every single day to be astonished, mesmerized, and left in an authentic state of wonder and awe by the beauty, growth and learning of our students. The book is simply titled, Awe, by Dacher Keltner, who first inspired me when delivering a keynote presentation at the 2020 AAIE conference in New York City. I have been regularly following his work at the Greater Good Science Center in Berkeley since then, and so much of what he researches and shares directly relates to our personal and professional lives as we strive to be our best selves for our kids and for each other. Anyway, if you are interested in learning more about this elusive and curious emotion, and how you can purposely bring a little more AWE into your own lives, then get reading…it’s an inspiring read that will profoundly connect you to the world around you, as well as to the people and students in your lives.

I remember a moment of awe that happened to me not that long ago, which left me wide-eyed, emotional, and super, super grateful. I had stopped by an early childhood classroom one afternoon and decided to sit down to watch. The kids were all seated on the rug and counting out loud the number of days that we had been in school so far this year, and of course it was super cute. As part of the lesson they were also learning how to draw the numbers on small square pieces of blue paper, and one lucky child was asked to put their own number drawing up on the display calendar for the class to see. Well, this little one was struggling a bit to form the numbers with her pencil so one of the teachers brought her to the table where I was sitting to practice…she was very excited, and so was I.

The child tried a couple of times to write out the number 24 but it simply came out as squiggly little lines, so the teacher held the child’s hand and helped her write it down. After a few of these practices together, the teacher then let the child trace the numbers individually several times on her own until she felt confident enough to try again without any help. The whole time I was watching, I was amazed by the sheer determination and tremendous effort on the part of the child to learn, and I was inspired by the teacher’s encouragement and willingness to let the child struggle without coming to her rescue. Every few seconds the child would stop and look up at me and smile, giving me a look of “I got this” before putting her head back down and getting on with the learning at hand. Finally, after many tries and lots of struggle, the child took a brand new piece of paper and drew a beautiful number 24 on the little blue square, and then joyfully ran to hang it up on the chart for all the world to see…I sat there in awe of this child’s perseverance, beauty and inherent desire to learn.

I was a little overwhelmed in that moment honestly, which is what the emotion of awe does to us, not just by the natural beauty of a young child so authentically learning, but also by how fortunate I am to be an educator. To be able to witness moments like that in my life is such a tremendous gift, and as I eventually composed myself I felt my heart swelling up with joy knowing that magical, awe-inspiring moments like these are available to me behind each and every classroom door, each and every day of the year. Keltner defines “awe” as “the feeling of being in the presence of something vast that transcends your current understanding of the world”, and if you think about it, as educators we are exposed to these moments and feelings  all the time…how lucky are we? Okay, pick up this book right away and let it inspire you to seek out those moments of awe more intentionally…we all need a little bit more awe in our lives. Have a wonderful week ahead and remember to be great for our students and good to each other. 

Quote of the Week…

The world is full of magic things, patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper – W.B. Yeats

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Awe – Keltner

10 Things That Made Us Smile

Mining For Gold

So over the past couple of weeks I have been dealing with, working through, and supporting people with some really difficult issues, both personally and professionally, and the heaviness of these recent issues inevitably started to send my mood into a downward spiral. Finally, late last week this downward mood change forced me to stop, slow down, and reflect on how important it is to focus, intentionally, on life’s small and beautiful moments, which for me is an important exercise in ensuring my day to day happiness. You see, we all have bad days now and then, and we all have tough weeks and difficult stretches at one time or another, and if we’re not careful then this collection of difficult experiences can creep into how we view our lives, our jobs, how we treat and respond to other people, and how we see the world. It’s so easy to let the negative moments frame your days, and it can happen gradually, without you even knowing that your energy for yourself and for others has changed.These difficult recent weeks also happened to coincide with the anniversary of the passing of a very good friend of mine, but interestingly enough that didn’t add to my days in a negative way, it was actually what inspired me to get through these weeks in the right frame of mind.

        This very good friend of mine was amazing at framing and re-framing any experience in a way that teased out the good, and he was a master at turning any negative experience into a positive or an opportunity. He used to say that there is always a best part to a bad day, and it’s just a matter of focusing on that particular piece when things get tough. He used to call this practice, “mining for gold”, and it became a daily habit in his life. It’s funny how easy it is to get caught up in the day to day stresses of our lives, and how easy it is to go days and days without slowing down and embracing life’s small and beautiful moments that are invisibly, and not so invisibly, bombarding us at every turn. It’s hard to find the time and the strength to reframe negative experiences into positive ones, and it’s hard to train your mind to be present and open enough to allow these special moments to change your day for the better….here’s a good example of how one small moment absolutely reframed an emotionally trying day, and how the best part of a bad day won out for me in the end.

        One day not that long ago I was hit with three issues that kind of threw me for a loop…one was a very difficult issue with a student’s health and safety, one was a tough conversation with a friend and colleague of mine, and the final one revolved around some residual feelings that resurfaced regarding a personal incident that had caught me off guard. Anyway, I came home that day feeling down and in a pretty negative space. I decided that the best thing to do was to head back to the gym to try and run it all off. It was just as I was leaving home when this small and magical moment reframed my outlook on life and snapped me back into focusing on what’s truly important. As I was walking out the door my beautiful son, Max, unexpectedly decided to come with me to play basketball, which is unusual for him, and the second we stepped out onto the driveway he grabbed me and gave me a great big hug! Now, that may not seem like much, but for an 18 year old who is at the age where Dad embarrasses him with any sign of public affection, this was huge! All my negative thoughts and foolish distractions melted away during that connection, and with Max’s help, I found my smile again.

         Small and beautiful moments are all around us every second of every day, and if we can purposely focus on these and seek them out then a bad day won’t seem nearly as bad. Look around you as you begin this week and notice the things that can help reframe a negative experience and put it into perspective. We’re all going to feel stress in our jobs, and we’re all going to have those days, but by focusing on the best part of a bad day, or when you purposely start mining for gold, you’ll find that there is beauty all around us in our lives if we only embrace the opportunity to let it in. With that in mind, I can honestly look back at my difficult recent weeks and see that they really weren’t that bad after all…there were difficult moments for sure, but way more incredible ones that I just hadn’t given the attention that they absolutely deserved. That “gold” is just sitting there waiting to be discovered…go get it! Have a wonderful week everyone and remember to be great for our students and good to each other.

Quote of the Week….

Enjoy the little things in life because one day you`ll look back and realize they were the big things – Kurt Vonnegut

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10 Ways to Make a Bad Day Better

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A Personal Ad

Our Greatest Teachers

So over the past couple of years we have made it a top priority to ensure that students have a stronger and more impactful voice in all aspects of our school organization. One example of this priority can be seen in our current curriculum committee structure. Several students are now an integral part of this committee and honestly, it might just be one of the best decisions that we have ever made as a leadership team. Listening to students engage in really important conversations around assessment, growth and feedback models, and student agency has already had a transformative effect on us as a team and community, and I always leave these conversations impressed, inspired, and with a much richer perspective on what is actually best for students and student learning. 
 
The latest curriculum committee meeting last week reminded me of a post that I shared six or seven years ago, where I talked about the beauty and wisdom of our students. You see, If you really think about it, it’s children (from 3 year olds up until our graduating seniors) who are in many ways our greatest teachers. As educators, most of us got into this amazing profession because we wanted to make a positive impact in the lives of kids. We wanted to play our part in shaping and inspiring their individual futures, as well as the future of our world, and you know what, we do this everyday. Teachers work incredibly hard and they are easily my favorite adults on the planet, and they deserve to be recognized way more than they are but here’s the thing…it might just be that the best part of being a teacher, and the true secret behind why we love it so much is that we probably get more out of this vocation then we put in. Here’s what I mean…
 
When I think about how much I’ve given to kids over the past 25 years or so, all over the world and all across the grade levels, I honestly don’t think it adds up to what my students have given to me. If I think of all the incredible life lessons that I’ve learned over the years, and all of the magical moments in my life, and the best belly laughs, and the person and leader and father that I’ve become, it’s mostly because of what I’ve learned from children. I’ve learned from their innocence and honesty, their willingness to shake off mistakes and to try again, their ten-foot tall and bulletproof approach to life, their ability to live truly in the present, and how they absolutely exude and represent all of the things that go into making a beautiful life…it’s all just so magical. Educators get a chance to learn from kids every second of every day, and this learning inspires us to live this way ourselves, and to be this way for others…it absolutely has done that for me over the years. 
 
I don’t think we recognize enough the immense and immeasurable and beautiful contribution that children give to our lives, and the positive effect that they have on us as adults. I think we all too often see ourselves as the keepers of the knowledge, and the ones who are going to make everything okay in the world but we might just be getting this backwards.With that in mind, I think that every school in the world should plan a student appreciation week for next year, much like our annual teacher appreciation weeks, where we spend 5 days (not nearly enough) doing nothing but thanking, celebrating, and recognizing all that our students give to us! It wouldn’t be hard at all to plan, and it would be super fun to get creative with it, but the message would be the right one to send. Field days, pizza parties, teachers serving kids breakfast and lunch, giving kids loads of time to research and share their passions during the day, and a beginning and end of the week assembly to bookend this incredible week…it’s crazy that we haven’t been doing this all along.
 
So, as we’re planning next year’s calendar, let’s take a second to think about who really and truly needs to be celebrated in our communities…the kids! Just like I suggested several years ago, let’s set aside some time to give them what they deserve. We don’t do this enough and there’s no better time to start than now. Have a wonderful week everyone and remember to be great for our students and good to each other.

Quote of the Week…
Education is not just about putting information in. We have forgotten that it, in fact, begins in the child’s heart – Vince Gowmon


Inspiring Videos –
Inspiring Caregivers
An Anonymous Act of Kindness
10 Things That Made Us Smile This Week
On the Road – Inspiration


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What to Read in 2023

So it’s that time of the year again when I get to order books for my birthday, which is my favorite gift ever because it keeps on giving for months and months and months. The deal is that I have to finish reading all of last year’s books before I get to order new ones, and I’m excited about ordering the list below in the next few days.
As usual, I’m encouraging you all to take a few minutes this week to look through these titles, and to order one (or five) that resonate with you…or, do your own research and share those titles with me so I can add them to this list. The suggestions below revolve around the themes of education, leadership, creativity, innovation and culture building, with an overarching focus on becoming a better person and educator for our world. 
Anyway, take a look and happy reading in 2023! Enjoy the week ahead everyone and remember to be great for our students and good to each other. 

The Half Known Life – Pico Iyer
Attention Span – Gloria Mark
A Creative Act – Rick Rubin
Fool Proof – Tess Wilkinson-Ryan
Psych – Paul Bloom
Magic Words – Jonah Berger
The Real Work – Adam Gopnik
Awaken Your Genius – Ozan Varol
Anatomy of a Breakthrough – Adam Alter
The Perfection Trap – Thomas Curran
Disruptable – Allan Young
The Good Life – Robert Waldinger, Marc Schulz

A New Year’s Mindset

So here we are already a couple of weeks into 2023, and we are already speeding through the month of January. I really enjoy the start of a new year actually, because it provides us a natural opportunity to think about where we are in our lives both personally and professionally, as well as providing us a chance to set goals or to make resolutions to do better, to be better, and feel better about where we currently are. The problem that often comes with these “resolutions” however, is that they are usually framed in the negative, and often set people up for failure. They tend to lean toward what’s currently wrong in our lives, and toward areas of life that aren’t currently worth celebrating. 

Honestly, making resolutions hasn’t felt quite right for me recently, because I found myself always starting the new year in a negative mindset. I was focusing on things that I wasn’t doing well, or doing at all, and this ultimately made me feel bad about myself. I’m sure many of you have gone through a similar experience, and maybe you’re feeling that way right now. Well, this year again I’m taking a different approach to the new year, and I’m entering into 2023 with a different and positive mindset, which so far feels really good.  
 
During this past holiday break I purposely re-read a post that I shared a few years ago. I had shared in that particular post that I used to start a new year by beating myself up for needing to eat better and exercise more, to drink less and spend more time with my family, and all the rest. I remember catching myself starting to get a bit depressed when January hit and frankly, a little sad. I wrote about how one New Year’s Eve not that long ago, when I was getting a little overwhelmed by the changes that I “needed” to make, I started looking around and I saw my two amazing kids, my beautiful wife, and this incredible New Year’s light show, and that’s when I challenged myself flip the script so to speak, and to start thinking about all that’s right with my life, and not about all that I perceived to be wrong with it. 
 
This mindset shift has allowed me to focus on all that was great about the previous year, and all that is going well in my life both personally and professionally. I now take all the good things that are working, and that are making me happy, and I carry them over into the new year…a new year’s carry over has now become my new year’s resolution. Of course over the next few weeks and even months I’ll try to eat better and exercise more, like I do after every extended holiday, and I will find new ways and new things to learn because I’m passionate about learning, but I guess my point is this…instead of beating yourself up about the person that you currently aren’t, and all the work that you need to do to feel better about yourself, change your mindset…even if it’s just a little, and begin the year focusing on the positive. 
 
Try to take stock in all that’s right about your life, and all that’s great about who you are as a person, and start 2023 by celebrating that! Begin the year feeling good about yourself instead of bad, and you know what, I bet that this positive energy and outlook will be a better foundation and starting point to achieve any goals that you might have for the upcoming year. I’m willing to bet that if you begin from a place of celebration and gratitude that any changes that you want to make will be more sustainable in the long run. You see, if we look closely enough, I bet all of us have areas in our lives that we are proud of and happy with…carry them over and make those positive aspects your focal point as we speed through January. Anyway, happy new year everyone and I truly hope that 2023 is your best year to date! Have a wonderful week everyone and remember to be great for our students and good to each other. 

Life I am the New Year.
I am an unspoiled page in your book of time.
I am your next chance at the art of living.
I am your opportunity to practice what you have learned about a life of reflection and giving.

All that you sought and didn’t find is hidden in me,
waiting for you to search it out with more determination.
All the good that you tried for and didn’t achieve
is mine to grant when you have fewer conflicting desires.
All that you dreamed but didn’t dare to do, all that you hoped but did not will,
All the faith that you claimed but did not have —
these slumber lightly, waiting to be awakened
by the touch of a strong purpose.

I am your opportunity
to renew your allegiance to a life fulfilled
I am the New Year.

— Author Unknown

Quote of the Week…
Celebrate what you want to see more of
-Tom Peters

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Un Petit Cadeau

So last weekend I found myself in line at my favorite French bakery after scouring the city for hours and hours for a simple watch battery that I just couldn’t seem to find. In front of me in line was a man who had sadly forgotten his bank card, and as the owner rang up his bill the man ended up being a couple of euros short. I quickly ran to the car and grabbed a few euros from the console and gave it to him so he could go on with his day, which of course was not a big deal at all and the right thing to do in any situation. But the incredible and magical thing about this gesture, which continues to make me smile, was that on the way home from the bakery I decided to stop at one final place to see if they had a battery, and as I walked into the store guess who was behind the counter eating his lunch…that’s right, the man who was in front of me at the bakery…he is a watchmaker!

After we smiled and greeted each other I asked him if he had the type of battery that I needed, but after he looked and looked through his drawers, he ended up being all sold out. Just as I was turning to leave he asked me to wait for just one minute as he disappeared in the back, and when he came out again he was holding the exact type of battery that I needed. When I asked him where he found it he just kept saying, “un petit cadeau, un petit cadeau”, but what he didn’t know is that I saw him through the curtain taking off his own watch and removing the battery so he could give it to me as a little gift. Even though I protested he wouldn’t take no for an answer, so away I went with a huge smile on my face and a heart that had grown at least a couple of sizes. On the drive home I reflected on that whole experience, and more than anything it just solidified my belief that small little gestures of kindness will absolutely spread, and they have a beautiful way of finding their way back to you if you pay it forward. 

I also think that there is something particularly special about the holiday season that fills people with a little extra cheer, and love, and thoughtfulness, and in many ways the idea of what we tend to call “holiday spirit” really seems to be an alive and tangible thing. The best part about this time of the year, in my opinion, is the opportunity that we all have to give of ourselves to others, and the chance that we have over the next few weeks to share a little holiday spirit, and to spread some of that tangible and living magic around to anyone and everyone that we come in contact with. 

I guess this little story is my way of casually reminding all of us of the beauty of this time of the year, and with less than a week to go before head off on our adventures I’m asking that you take some time this week to slow down, take a breath, and soak up all the positive energy that is spilling out from our students and from each other…let’s smile a bit more, give out a few more hugs, and spread that holiday magic around! I want to wish you all a safe and joyful holiday season, and a happy and prosperous New Year…the world is a beautiful place and that holiday magic is all around, even in a small boulangerie and an even smaller little watchmaker’s store. Have a wonderful week ahead everyone and remember to be great for our students and good to each other. 

Holidays
The holiest of all holidays are those
Kept by ourselves in silence and apart;
The secret anniversaries of the heart,
When the full river of feeling overflows;–
The happy days unclouded to their close;
The sudden joys that out of darkness start
As flames from ashes; swift desires that dart
Like swallows singing down each wind that blows!
White as the gleam of a receding sail,
White as a cloud that floats and fades in air,
White as the whitest lily on a stream,
These tender memories are;–a fairy tale
Of some enchanted land we know not where
– Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Quote of the Week…
Remember, there is no such thing as a small act of kindness. Every act creates a ripple with no logical end – Scott Adams

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From Hard Conversations to Opportunity Talks

So a couple of weeks ago I wrote a post titled, “What’s In a Name?”, where I suggested that schools might want to think about reimagining traditional course and subject names, and that post got me thinking really deeply about the how and why behind the naming and labeling of lots of things all across organizations. For example, the other day I had a super supportive friend and colleague of mine ask me how I was doing because he knew that I had just come out of a school day loaded full of what he called, “hard conversations”. 

After I said thank you and started to head for home it struck me that on its face the label that we use to identify this kind of courageous human interaction really does have a negative connotation, and after thinking critically about it over the past week or so I’d like to advocate for a change from calling these interactions “hard conversations”, to a more positive and compassionate labeling where we call these conversations, “opportunity talks”. 

In my opinion, a simple name change like this would re-frame a person’s mindset, approach and inevitable visualization of what’s to come from one of nervousness, defensiveness, and fear (on both sides of the table) to one of openness, understanding, and compassion. In my experience, just about every hard conversation that I have ever had with anyone, and I’ve had many, has deep down at the core been about recognizing an opportunity. An opportunity that we have for growth, or clarity, or repair, which ultimately is a very positive and beautiful chance for a particular person to do better, and to be better…and what could be a greater opportunity than that?

It took me a long time to change my approach and mindset regarding these difficult discussions, and if I’m being honest, I used to shy away from them until they became absolutely necessary. I was never one for conflict growing up, and like most people, addressing difficult issues was something that I didn’t look forward to for many, many years because well, they are hard! Over the years however, I have started to embrace these opportunity talks as I am now acutely aware of the fact that good leadership and good schools are connected tightly to what people in the organization are willing to address. Now I actually find myself much more comfortable with these types of conversations because I know that an organizational culture depends on them, and I have learned throughout the years that they are an integral part of building solid and trusting relationships…and as we know, relationships are the foundation of all human organizations, especially school environments.  

I’m not saying that these conversations aren’t difficult, they certainly are, and they require practice, practice, practice and a developed skill set to manage them well, that’s for sure. So to begin that work as schools let’s start with a simple change of name so both parties enter into the conversation with a focus on the opportunity that lies ahead, and a focus on what ultimately matters, which is doing and being better for our kids and for our community. 

Anyway, If nothing else, this name change would reframe our mindsets around these interactions, and shift how a day full of “hard conversations” doesn’t necessarily have to be seen as a bad day at all like my friend assumed and suggested, in fact, it can actually turn out to be a very good day or even a great day. You see, a day full of “opportunity talks” is a day full of growth, relationship building, deeper understanding, stronger connections, and a day full of strengthening our culture as a school…that’s a great day indeed! Have a fantastic week ahead everyone and remember to be great for our students and good to each other. 


Quote of the Week…
At work, at home, and across the backyard fence, difficult conversations are attempted or avoided everyday – Douglas Stone

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Inspiring Videos – 
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A Structure for Student Voice

So after a brief departure from running our school-wide professional learning communities (PLC’s) with faculty and staff due to Covid, we are back this year with more exciting and engaging opportunities for all. We have structured our PLC format this year around the umbrella theme of AGENCY, and the research and deep inquiry projects that are underway across the school are definitely inspiring. It’s so important to have educators not only learning and growing together, but having some voice and choice in their professional development experiences as well, and I’m looking forward to our next session in a couple of weeks. I also cannot wait for the end of the year learning showcase where we get to benefit collectively from everyone’s hard work and passions, and reflect on how these groups have helped to enhance agency across all aspects of our school.
 
Our return to these PLC’s have got me thinking about how this particular learning structure could be adopted, adapted and applied to our students, and rolled out as a form of “student learning communities”, or SLC’s. I posted a version of this idea several years ago and I think it’s time to revisit and reshare, as I believe it deserves some significant thought for all schools who are thinking about ways for kids to take more ownership of their educational experience. 
 
All good schools that I know of are always trying to find creative ways to engage students in their learning experiences, and looking to implement structures which allow kids to drive their own learning and personal growth forward. These schools have also purposefully structured time for teachers and teacher teams to analyze and discuss individual student data, and to use this data as a foundation for a more personalized and differentiated approach to goal setting and curriculum design. But why not set up a situation where students get a chance to go through the same powerful process? 

I think it’s time to set up a structure that allows all students to collaborate together, every so often, to talk about their learning with their peers, to analyze their own feedback and assessment data, to talk about their strengths and weaknesses, to learn from each other, and to provide important feedback to their teacher or teachers about how they best learn. Once a cycle or once every week or two, students would get into their student learning community group (grade specific or subject specific, or ultimately, passion specific that isn’t tied to grade level bands or subject areas) and collaboratively reflect on their day to day experience of school. They would listen to each other talk about their successes, they would learn from each other, they would teach each other, they would talk about some struggles that they might be having, they would set goals and hold each other accountable, and when the trust has been developed, they could share their own assessment data and feedback from teachers to see how and where they might be able to improve. 
 
 
 
All of this would be documented and shared with the teacher as feedback for them, which would help the educator in the room to better plan a differentiated lesson, to better understand if a student needs some extension or some intervention, to get a much richer idea of what each individual student truly needs, and to receive feedback on their teaching too…a personalized insight from the people who we often forget to include in these conversations, the kids. Of course, during this SLC the teacher or teachers would walk around to each group and engage in the collaborative conversations, getting immediate feedback on how each lesson or unit is going, and checking for conceptual understanding. 

It shouldn’t be only focused on academics by the way, it would be a wonderful portal into each student’s social and emotional well being, both inside and outside of school. The students could be directed and encouraged to talk about relationships, their home life if they’re comfortable, their sense of belonging within the community, issues that they need support with, and how they feel about themselves as people and learners. These SLC’s would provide incredible insight into each student’s individual experience, and would help individual students, teachers and schools to dig deep into the personal perspective and feedback from the kids, giving weight and action to student voice and student agency across the school.

Anyway, PLC’s as we all know have been incredibly powerful in moving schools forward, so why not bring students into the mix? It seems so simple, doesn’t it? SLC’s might just be the perfect extension of the PLC model, and a way to get the most important voices into the conversation. It’s a structure that would absolutely bring kids into the learning conversation, and provide a mechanism for students to truly have a voice in their educational experience. Have a wonderful week everyone and remember to be great for our students and good to each other.

Quote of the Week…
Half the curriculum walks into the room when the students do – 
Darnell Fine

Related Articles – 
Edutopia – Student Voice Articles
Student Voice and Student Wellbeing
Bring Student Voice to the Forefront
Making a Student Voice Heard

Book Recommendations – 
Personalized Learning
ASCD – Learning Communities

Inspiring Videos – 
Teaching Kids Kindness
Kindness 101
10 Things That Made Us Smile

What’s In A Name?

So I have been thinking a lot lately about the traditional structure and construct of school course and subject names, and how interesting it would be if we, as schools, finally changed things up. I honestly think it is time to rename many of the subjects that our students take throughout their educational journey, and with this renaming I believe that students would show up with a different mindset, and a clearer understanding of what they are truly being asked to learn about. I also think that this switch would present a possible opportunity for schools to reimagine stand alone subjects and subject areas altogether, allowing for a more transdisciplinary approach to teaching and learning. When you stop to think about what’s actually in a name, and the power that comes along with it, the answer is…well, a lot!

As it stands now, the traditional subject names like Math, Science, History, Social Studies, English, Language Arts, and many others have been around since the 19th century, and they bring with them, in my opinion, a really vague and uninspiring connotation that can leave students and teachers mired in the past, and siloed into an antiquated idea of what is possible with curriculum and education. Wouldn’t it be great if instead of going to Math class, a child went to a course called Problem Solving and Critical Thinking, where they show up not only knowing what is expected of them, but inspired by the action that the name proposes. Or if instead of heading off to Science, students went eagerly down the hallway to a class called Seeking the Truth, or Seeking to Understand, where they know precisely what they are there for and what they are meant to do. What about instead of English, or Language Arts, kids walked into a course called Human Connection, which at the heart of it is exactly what we do when we read and write…we connect with one another across cultures and genres and differing perspectives. 

Instead of going to Art class, imagine if kids went to a class called Creativity and Imagination, which in itself screams out for a partnership with maker spaces, innovation clubs, and educational technology opportunities. Also, there are obviously incredible examples of Art, in many forms of writing or music for instance, that could lead to wonderful collaborations between educators. What about offering new courses, either as electives or otherwise called Empathy and Inclusion, or Belonging, or Passions and Inspirations, or Kindness and Gratitude, where kids truly get to learn about what it means to be a great human being for our world, while allowing them to lead out their own desired learning pathway throughout a school day or school week. Listen, I could go on and on, with more examples and more possible names but you get my drift. I would love it if at some point a student schedule looked something like this, across all divisions of a school…

Problem Solving and Critical thinking (Math)
Seeking the Truth (Science)
Human Connection (English Language Arts)
Creativity and Imagination (Art)
What Ties Us Together (Social Studies)
Empathy and Inclusion
Belonging
Passion and Inspiration

Instead of this…

Math, Science, Art, Social Studies, English, etc…

To be clear, my intention with this post is not at all to devalue the passion and rigor that subject specific educators bring to their subjects, which is immense I know, but rather it’s a way to possibly thread them together where appropriate, or to support them to better clarify and communicate what it is that they are targeting for their students. It’s a way of looking at subjects through a different lens…a lens that is clearly aligned with a more current and innovative structure, and a new lens that students can engage with when thinking about the class that they are taking. Finally, please understand that I am acutely aware of the fact that some schools around the world have already done this work, and I know that there are wonderfully progressive and creative curriculum structures out there that are changing the landscape of education in beautiful and inspiring ways, but for the most part, schools everywhere, all around the world, are still using the course subject names that our great grandparents used and honestly, times have changed, and things are rapidly changing, and we could too. 

Anyway, I’m going to continue this discussion in the future with schools and organizations who have already begun this journey and I hope this post has given you something to ponder and explore in your own communities if nothing else. It’s important to keep challenging the traditional structure of education so we can keep getting better for our kids, so at the root of it, just ask yourself, why? Why are we still using these traditional names when there is a more creative, more inspiring, and more engaging opportunity just waiting for us to act on. What’s in a name? Well, there is so much power, so much opportunity for innovation, and so much tied to a student’s relationship with learning…so, let’s think about it. Have a wonderful week everyone and remember to be great for our students and good to each other. 


Quote of the Week…
A name represents identity, a deep feeling, and holds tremendous significance to its owner
-Rachel Ingber

Related Articles – 
UNESCO – Reimagining Our FuturesTogether
Topics Instead – Finland

TED Talk – Dan Harris

Inspiring videos – 
Halloween!
10 Things That Made Us Smile
Emotional Support Alligator